From Canyon To Cove: Mastering the moods of the creek

September 01, 2011|By Cindy Frazier,
  • Olivia Batchelder shows how high the water level rose on the side of her home during last December's storm.
Olivia Batchelder shows how high the water level rose… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

On the morning of Dec. 22, Laguna Beach silk painter Olivia Batchelder woke up her boyfriend, Steve O'Neil, as rain pounded the high-beamed roof of her Laguna Canyon home.

It was 3 a.m., and she'd never heard such a racket in a rainstorm. Something told her this was more serious than any storm she'd weathered in the 12 years she has lived next to the creek.

"I told him to get up, but he said not to worry about it," Batchelder recalled. "So I handed him his jeans and pulled him out of bed."

Outside, they encountered a creeping mass of mud, peppered with glass, from a long-forgotten dump site on the hill next to the creekside home.

"We were walking around barefoot on broken glass and somehow we didn't get cut," Batchelder said.

The glass was the top layer of a wall of mud that slid from the city-owned parcel.


But that was just one of a number of waves of destruction that hit the home/studio from three sides that morning.

First, water and mud cascaded down the canyon road from nearby El Toro Road, flooding the home with an inch of water and mud. The garage — which happened to be filled with furnishings cleared out of the home for a holiday party — was inundated with four feet of mud. All but the roof was lost.

The rain and runoff kept coming, the creek overflowed its banks and a number of storage units on a property on the other side of the creek floated away, bashing her studio space and garage. Boulders smashed into the property from the other side as the hill came down.

"I lost everything related to my silk painting," she said.

She and Steve were able to continue living in the one room of the house that was unscathed — the bedroom. She attributes that bit of luck to a very solid bedroom door that kept the water and mud at bay.

"We even cooked in the bedroom," she recalled.

Eight months later, Batchelder and the other homeowners in the Sun Valley Drive area are still coming to grips with the flood and aftermath.

"We just found out that it was a 10-foot flash flood," Batchelder said of the creek water that morning. A city committee is calling the event a "100-year flood," but Batchelder knows that the canyon creek traditionally floods about every 10 years. So she is stockpiling sandbags and will fortify her property — which includes both sides of the creek — early in the rainy season this year and every year from now on.

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